Images: Windsor Fine Jewelers
For $1 million, you can own a chess fit for a real king or queen.
The jewel-studded set is currently on display in Windsor Fine Jewelers in Augusta, Ga., where it’s drawn a lot of local media and consumer interest—but not a buyer yet, says general manager Michael Zibman.
“We have gotten a lot of people coming in and oohing and aahing,” he says. “There’s been a bit of interest. One person wanted their picture taken with it. We’re hoping someone will say, ‘That’s pretty cool,’ and take it.”
While there have been many jewel-covered chess sets, this one, designed in 1971 by Jim Grahl, is pretty unique, Zibman says.
The pieces are all 14k yellow and white gold. The two kings and queens have diamonds in their crowns and a piece of either sapphire or ruby in their breastplates. One queen has a piece of jade in her orb, the other a pearl.
The pieces were designed to represent a “cross section of Europe in the 13th and 14th centuries,” says Grahl, owner of J. Grahl Design.
“You have the Nordic king, the Spanish queen, and a French knight that turned into a version of Henry VIII,” he says. “The castle is Germanic. It’s loosely based on the Falkenstein Castle. The foot soldiers are Welsh. It was trying to compress that particular history of costuming and trying to be era-correct.”
Grahl has done many other high-profile projects, but this particular one—which for years was exhibited at the rotunda of the Gemological Institute of America—has taken on “a life of its own,” he says. It was created in a frenzied three months by Grahl and four associates.
“I was so young when I did it,” Grahl says. “I was so inexperienced. I can’t look at it with a clear head.”
Zibman is more impressed.
“A lot of chess sets that are made to be expensive look over-the-top and kind of strange. But this one looks really beautiful. It’s incredibly well-executed, with a lot of detail.”
“The castle is probably the piece that people find the most detailed, but I particularly like the king because of the scepter and the robes,” he says. “It’s simple yet dramatic.”
While the piece is impressive visually, it does raise the question if someone can actually play on it.
“The pieces are designed to be held and played with,” says Grahl. “They are very tactile. They are not fragile.”
Two families have owned the set, Zibman says, and he believes they did play a few games on it.
Which is perfectly safe, he says—“as long as you’re not going to tip over the king in an aggressive manner.”